FDA Bobbles, Minnesota Finds the Red Hot Pepper
Nice piece of reporting by the AP’s Lauran Neergaard about how shoe-leather Minnesota epidemiologists traced the contaminated jalapenos that seem to be responsible for the supposed tainted-tomato Salmonella outbreak. Alerted about an outbreak in late June in Minnesota, public health officials there interviewed the sick, traced the Salmonella Saintpaul to a particular restaurant, and used credit card receipts to see who had or had not gotten the jalapeno relish on their food, thereby confirming jalapenos as the prime suspect. Then they traced the jalapenos back to a farm in Mexico–where they found Salmonella on a pepper–and from there to a distributor in McAllen, Texas. It took about 10 days to do all this. Michael Osterholm, who has become a big-shot consultant in the bio-terror world, directed the Minnesota public health department for years and seems to have left behind a solid institution. The obvious question: Why were a handful of Minnesota scientists able to quickly resolve an outbreak that stumped the FDA and CDC for four months?
To be sure, no one is positive that all 1,100+ Salmonella Saintpaul infections are jalapeno-related, though there’s no concrete evidence of anything else. Meanwhile, the FDA continues to be accused of providing partial and confusing information about the scare, infuriating the produce industry, which has suffered hundreds of millions in losses.